When to Write in First Person: The Professional Writers’ Guide
Some professional writers hate writing in first person. Some readers, professional or otherwise, hate reading in first person. All those I’s and Me’s and Mine’s. It’s off-putting, they say.
Or some such thing.
As such, when the question of when to write in first person comes up, they’re quick to answer, “Never!” And they have the right to hold that opinion.
It’s just that, in holding it, they’re missing out on a lot of worthwhile connections, particularly as professional writers.
There really are times when it’s okay to write in first person. In fact, there are times when it’s actually advisable to write in first person.
Take blogging. The dictionary.com definition of blogging goes like this:
A website containing a writer’s or group of writer’s own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.
A single entry or post on such a website.
Let’s repeat that first entry again: “A website containing a writer’s or group of writer’s own experiences, observations, opinions, etc.” As in audiences are automatically expecting and looking for someone’s personal point of view.
They want to be assured that someone else has tried it or gone through it or thought it too.
“It” can be about something as congenial as baking, shopping or comic book reading. Or it can be about something much more somber and serious like investing or self-defense.
Either way, readers are looking for personal reassurances that the "I" in question knows what she's doing. And what better way to give them personal reassurances than writing in first person?
For more ideas about when to write in first person, Meet Content has a pretty good list of them. Innovative Editing, meanwhile, will just mention one more for now…
Writing in first person can work very well when making appeals for money or consideration. Such as in the following example:
I first met Sasha when she was just a tiny baby in a red-light district in India. Her mother was a slave. Therefore, so was she, destined for the same levels of heartbreaking abuse because of when and where and to whom she was born.
When I saw her that February afternoon, she was lying in a cardboard box. That’s where they kept her. And they beat her whenever she cried, not because she was annoying them. No. That would have been kinder than their actual reasons, which was to break her spirit right from the start. That way, she wouldn’t give them trouble when they started selling her as a prostitute.
How could I not lose my heart to that poor baby girl? How could I not want to do everything I could to save her?
By using first-person appeal, you’re actually using second-person appeal… How could you not lose your heart to that poor baby girl? How could you not want to do everything you could to save her?
Smart professional writers know when to write in first person: when they need to connect with the reader on a personal level, not just an intellectual one.
P.S. Innovative Editing didn’t just invent the story of Sasha above. It’s based on the very real case of Sweetie, so named because of her lighter skin color, which made her a more valuable commodity in India.
Sweetie has since been rescued after years of failed attempts. But there are plenty of other little girls in very similar positions if you’d like to help give them a happy ending too.